Ireland – Dingle

We visited the Dingle peninsula on our previous trip to Ireland.  It was snowed-capped and beautiful.  We started along the Ring of Dingle but turned back on account of snow.  Back then, it was pubs and B&Bs and little local shops.  This trip added breweries and a distillery to the mix.

West Kerry Brewery is a tiny affair adjacent to the Bricks Pub – Tig Bhric in Irish.  The Pub served aWest Kerry Brewery very nice pairing meal along with three of their drafts- a Golden, Red, and Winter Strong.  The Golden had a nice bready malt character and a light lemon hops character.  Susan felt it was slightly too hop-balanced to be a great representation of a Golden.  Their Red was wonderfully malty- distinct hazelnut and molasses flavors were more characteristic of a nut brown than a red for us.  The Winter Warmer was also delightful- fruit flavors dominated by plum and a good richness to the malt profile.  They had a special elderberry/flower dark ale which was fine, but the elder character was too muted for our tastes.  The pub music was quiet and, sadly, we were the only ones there.  Sadly, they do not take credit cards, so tourists be forewarned.

Dingle Brewery is located within town, close enough to walk from our lodging.  The day was beyond blustery, with the rain coming in horizontal from gale-force winds off the ocean, so we drove.  Somewhat amazingly, they only had one beer on tap- their cream Irish lager.  It was fine, but nothing remarkable.  We hope they expand their offerings in the future.

Dingle DistilleryFinally, the Dingle Distillery a little outside the west edge of town is only a few years old and contained in a drafty metal building.  The tour was lengthy and a bit wandering, but contained a few interesting tidbits.  Notably, that ‘pot still’ whiskey in Ireland refers to mixing malted grains with unmalted grains, using the enzymes from the malted grain to metabolize the starches in the unmalted grain.  As with all new whiskey distilleries, they do not yet sell whiskey- that requires barrel ageing, which takes time.  They do offer a gin- Susan liked it, I thought it tasted like soap- and a vodka, which was a bit harsh.  Hopefully their whiskey, once complete, will be delicious.

Overall, we’re pleased Ireland seems to be trying to evolve its beer and distillery production to be more local and unique.  We have to say, though, that the mega-companies just do SUCH a fine job in Ireland, it’s difficult to root as hard for the underdog as we do in the US.

Dingle Farms

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Ireland – Dublin

Alcohol Tourism Belgian Beer Atlanta Aiport“Belgian Beer” said the auspicious sign immediately outside our gate in the International terminal of the Atlanta Airport.  A pint of Rare Vos later, we were set to begin the journey to Ireland.

We had both been to Ireland once alone and once with each other, for our 1 year anniversary.  This trip would mark our 6 year anniversary, 5 years since our last journey to Ireland.  On our last trip, we had a hard time finding breweries or brewpubs not associated with a major, large brewer like Guinness. Guinness was our first favorite beer, so we didn’t miss our beloved craft beer too much.  Wine seems to be unmade on this island, and the distilleries often did not have tours.  Let’s see if time has improved Ireland’s alcohol tourism prospects.

Our first pints, in the Clontarf Castle Hotel’s Knight’s Bar pub, had to be Guinness and a cider, though they didn’t have Bulmers on tap.  The next day saw us start at Grogans Castle Lounge.  We had heard about the pub from Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap, who hailed it as a great place for a chat.  That night, and the next time we tried it Saturday afternoon, it was crowded to the point just beyond standing-room-only.  Maybe if you arrived at 10am you could get a spot to have a chat.  After that was JW Sweetman’s in downtown Dublin.  We had been to Sweetman’s previous incarnation, Messr Maguire’s, on our last trip and were delighted to score the same quiet, tucked away spot to have our drinks and meal.  Their Irish Red Ale was a bit hoppy for that style- more like an American Red.  The Weiss was our favourite, with a nice banana aroma and a wonderful creamy mouthfeel.

Alcohol Tourism Against the Grain DublinThe next day saw us in what can simply be described as a Wonder of the World- a pub on a college campus.  Maybe they have these outside of the South, but I cannot imagine the outcry if any Southern university were to put a pub on campus.  The Clubhouse at UCD was surprisingly lively, as the quiet and comfy lounge was closed.  Still, the concept is sound- let’s get on this one, America.

Our last alcohol stop was Against the Grain, an outlet of the Galway Bay brewing company.  Their beer was delightful- the milk stout and the wee heavy were absolute stand outs.  We managed to find an off-license (liquor store) which featured several dozen Irish craft beers.  We selected Kinnegar’s porter, Bo Bristle’s stout, Jack Cody’s Samhain, and Dan Kelley’s cider.  Each was quite impressive, rivalling the best American craft beers for their adherence to style and pleasant mouthfeel.  This bodes well for Ireland’s alcohol touring prospects this trip.

Alcohol Definitions

Let’s talk in detail about drinks that can get us ethanol.  Ultimately, they rely on conversion of sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide by yeast.  The differences are in the source of sugar, type of yeast, the process, and what’s added.

 

NE Trip Wine

Images of our collections from our NE trip.

Wine

Grapes serve as the source of sugar in wines, although you may see strawberry wine, peach wine, and similar fruits which can also provide the sugars.  The yeast is usually killed and then the wine filtered so that the product is stable over time.  The different types of wines (merlot, chardonnay, etc.), called varietals, are determined by the variety of grape used in their production.  Table wine is used to refer to wine that is blended and not necessarily from a single varietal.  Vermouth is a wine fortified with a spirit (like brandy) with various spices and botanicals added.  A wine maker is a vintner and a place that makes wine is a winery.

NE Trip BeerBeer

Grains such as barley (typically), wheat, and rye serve as the source of sugars.  The carbohydrates in these grains are too complex for the yeast to break down directly, so the grain must first be malted and mashed to produce fermentable sugars.  Not all of the sugar is metabolized, leaving the beer sweet.  Hops are added as a bittering agent to balance the beer.  Beer is either an ale or a lager, depending on the species of yeast used to metabolize the sugar and the temperature at which fermentation occurs.  The different types of beer (india pale ale, stout, Oktoberfest, etc.) are produced primarily by altering the type and amount of grain and type and amount of hops.  A beer maker is a brewer and a place that makes beer is a brewery.  A brewpub is a restaurant which makes their own beer.  A beer bar is a bar which focuses on having a large selection of craft beer on draft.

Cider

Apples provide the sugar for ciders.  It is handled similarly to wine.  Most ciders are blended from different types of apples.  Cider apples are often ones that cannot be sold directly to the public due to bruising, size, or other defect.  A cider maker is a cider maker and a place that makes cider is a cidery.

NE Trip MeadMead

Honey provides the sugar for mead.  Honey wine is sometimes used to describe mead.  Many meads have fruit or spices added to them, as the taste of simply fermented honey (called a show mead) is not to the liking of most Americans.  Meads that have fruit added are called melomels, meads with spice are called methegline, mead with a grain (like beer) are braggots, mead with cider are cysers, and mead with wine are pyments.  A mead maker is a maizer and a place that makes mead is a meadery.

NE Trip SpiritsSpirits

Alcohol drinks containing over ~18% ABV are difficult to attain by simple fermentation.  There’s only so many sugars the yeast can metabolize and only so much alcohol they can live in before they shut down.  For commercial spirits, the path to a higher ABV is distillation.  In distillation, the base alcohol source is heated, vaporizing the alcohol, which is then condensed and collected.  This minimizes the contribution of flavour from the base alcohol source.  Corn, grains, potatoes, rice, and many other sources of sugars have been used.  Ultimately, how the spirit is handled after distillation contributes the majority of flavor.  Covering all spirits is beyond the scope of this article, but generally vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy, and rum are the most commonly encountered craft spirits.  A spirit maker is a distiller and a place that makes spirits is a distillery.

All of these locations provide opportunities to explore your palate and create new experiences.  Different laws throughout the US and the world affect which of these you will encounter on an alcohol tour.  Knowing your options will expand your opportunities and improve your enjoyment!

Faux Pas?

Imagine a wine bar, populated by the usual patrons.  Stan reviews the long list of pinot noir, cabernet franc, traminette, and tempranillo local wines.  He ultimately orders a glass of Almaden jug white Zinfandel. He enjoys it, but is it appropriate?

Rogue Alcohol TourismWe have been to many breweries and brewpubs which, somewhat inexplicably, offered mass-produced commercial beer.  The Rogue bar in San Francisco listed, “Bud Light, no joke.”  At Madison Brewing in Bennington, VT, we saw someone drinking a Sam Adams beer.  In contrast, Copper Creek in Athens offers only their beers, and, when asked for some mass-produced beer, explain that they offer only their own craft-brewed beer.

On one hand, this is similar to going to an Irish pub and ordering a taco.  The whole reason one goes to an Irish pub is for bangers and mash, fish and chips, or similar.  Why would you order a taco?  Go to a Mexican restaurant if that’s what you want.

On the other hand, I remember a quote from a brewpub owner at the Great American Beer Fest who said something like, I am in the brewpub business- which is to say, the restaurant business.  This suggests that brewpub owners are really selling food, with their beer as a draw as opposed to the focus.

So, craft brewers face a dilemma.  If they only offer Beer Sober Kids Alcohol Tourismtheir own beers, they risk turning off a large portion of customers who insist on mass produced beer.  If they offer mass-produced beer, they risk diluting the effect of their own efforts to spread delicious beer.  From the brewer’s perspective, we have no answers.  From the consumer’s perspective, we believe that customers should be there to consume the product that the brewer is producing.  So, drink the beer they make there!

Least Favourite New England Locales

We try not to be negative, but we do have opinions which we like to share.  We won’t say you shouldn’t visit these locations (well, except McNeills- it was horrible), just that we didn’t enjoy them as much as we had hoped we would.

Magic Hat Brewing, South Burlington VTMagic Hat Alcohol Tourism

Their hop-centered lineup was disappointing but unsurprising.  They did offer free tastings, which was nice.  The space was primarily a retail space, and their edginess we liked but it was a bit overblown.

Long Trail Brewing, Bridgewater Corners VT

This was a recommendation of a friend, so we had big expectations.  The beer was all hop-balanced and not to style.  The scenery was amazing- right on the river on an outdoor deck- and the food was fantastic.

McNeill’s Brewing, Brattleboro VT

Live Irish music, a cozy Irish pub, what’s not to like?  The service and beer were both atrocious, and we expect this business is not long for this world.

Rising Tide Brewing & Bunker Brewing, Portland ME

We’ve talked about these elsewhere– the beer is just not good and the ambiance was very uncomfortable.

Maine Beer Alcohol TourismMaine Beer Company, Freeport ME

Although contemporary, this place had a chill atmosphere we appreciated.  The ‘clever’ names they had for their beers made it difficult to order and determine the style.  Everything was over-hopped for the style, and only the stout was even drinkable.

Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem NC

The only place on our trip that charged a splitting fee.  Sharing meals is how we can afford these trips, so this was a major strike against.  Also, the beer wasn’t good- everything was too extreme in one direction or the other.

I’m sure there are many who would disagree with us, especially about Magic Hat and the Rising Tide/Bunker Brewing vibe.  That’s perfectly fine.  But we do encourage you to check out our favourite New England trip locales for a more likely positive experience.

Susan Notes Alcohol Tourism

Susan keeps all the notes about the drinks, food, and setting on our journeys.

Favourite New England Alcohol Locales

Alcohol Tourism Vermont Pub

In case you are ever in the neighborhood, these are the locations we would recommend you visit without question:

Vermont Pub, Burlington, VT

Although they didn’t fill our non-Vermont-Pub growler, the food was quite good, the vibe was quiet and comfortable, and the beer was outstanding and served at the proper temperature.

Alcohol Tourism Otter Creek

 

Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury VT

Another comfortable, quiet location.  Quite good food and interesting beers.  Not all of them were excellent, but the types of beers they had available were unique and worth trying.

 

 

Vermont Spirits Distilling, Hartford VT

Very pleasant host, impressively delicious spirits, and a free tasting (classy) make us huge fans.  A definite must.

Maine Mead Works, Portland ME

A free tasting of an impressive lineup, and probably the best mead we have ever tasted.  The tasting room can get a bit crowded, so go during down times.

Seadog Brewing, Topsham MEAlcohol Tourism Seadog Brewing

We were there during a quiet, down time, so your experience may vary.  All the beers were to style, the flavours complex without being overwhelming, and they were all very drinkable.  We got a seat by the window overlooking the river, adding to the great ambience.

Run of the Mill Brewery, Saco ME

Another place we hit during a down time, it has a nice pub feel.  The food was outstanding, the view spectacular, and the beer very much to style and British.  We could have had a pint of any of them.

Roanoke Railhouse Brewing, Roanoke VA

Although not in New England, the beer here was flavorful and clean and interesting and very much to style.  We wish we could have taken away a six pack of each of their beers.  No food available nearby, though, so eat before you come.

These are the highlights- we enjoyed so many locations on this trip.  You can see them all on our Google map of the journey here.

More Breweries, Less Wineries

Alcohol Tourism Waterfall

Our first ever alcohol tour focused on waterfalls and wineries in Tasmania, Australia.  We love wineries- they’re usually set in beautiful countryside, they’re locally owned, and they often produced great booze.  Our three trips within the US, however, have all focused on breweries.  We hit wineries, distilleries, meaderies, and cideries when possible, but there are three basic reasons why breweries are our preferred method of alcohol touring.

1) Breweries are everywhere

Sure, put “winery” or “brewery” into Google Maps and the former will light the US up like a Christmas tree.  Unfortunately, most of those wineries are not open Mon-Thurs, or not open to the public at all.

Alcohol Tourism Menu2) Breweries serve food

Many breweries are also brewpubs, serving food and beer.  This makes them excellent lunch and dinner destinations- good waypoints for the mid day and end of the day.  Some wineries do serve food, but in our experience they are overpriced, fancy affairs more suited to high-maintenance guests than people who just want a decent plate of food.  Also, considering one person has to drive, the driver can sit down at the brewpub and have a taste without having to immediately hit the road.  Winery visits without food tend to prohibit the driver from experiencing enough of the wine to get a full appreciation for the flavour.

3) Reasonably priced tastings

We’ve observed before the problem of charging for tastings.  At a brewery, a $5 charge usually gets you more beer than in a pint.  At a winery, a $4 – $8 charge usually gets you barely enough wine to experience the flavours.  Some family-run wineries still do free tastings, but they are harder to find and widely dispersed.  Entering a brewery, you know there will be a charge, but you’ll get a decent amount of beer with it.

Breweries are much more ‘our speed’.  Local, chill, independent, anti-establishment, and focused on the product.  Wineries tend to be more fancy and targeting a higher socioeconomic status.  We aim for breweries and, if a good winery presents itself, we’ll check it out.  But we focus on the breweries.

Alcohol Tourism Relaxed